Saturday, November 08, 2014

Sequelitis (Yet Again)

The Atlantic magazine grouses.

... The announcement of Toy Story 4 is yet another example of Pixar’s disturbing descent into sequel-itis. For the studio’s first 15 years, it declined to make sequels for any of its films except Toy Story. Since then, it’s hardly seemed capable of making anything else. Apart from Brave, we’ve had Cars 2 and Monsters University. The Good Dinosaur, as noted, hasn’t been able to make it to theaters at all, and who knows when or if it will.

The future slate looks still grimmer in this regard. Again, first the good news: Next year we should see Pete Docter’s Inside Out, which sounds like the best bet for classic Pixar magic in half a decade. (Docter directed arguably the studios most underrated feature, Monsters Inc., and arguably its best, Up.) And Toy Story 3’s Unkrich is working on a movie based on the Dia de los Muertos that does not yet have a release date.

... And the bad news: Every other upcoming Pixar feature that’s been announced is a sequel. Finding Dory in 2016, Toy Story 4 in 2017, and (as yet unscheduled) The Incredibles 2 and (brief shudder) Cars 3. For those keeping track at home, that’s a total of four announced sequels and two announced non-sequels. It’s tough to think of a more conspicuous advertisement that the creative wells at Pixar are running dry.

What the Atlantic is actually complaining about is A) Large Corporations are money-making entities, and B) Time doesn't stand still.

Pixar, at the beginning, was a small, struggling studio totally dependent on Steve Jobs' deep pockets and its production deal with Disney. It didn't have a catalogue of features (it hadn't been created yet) so no way could it make sequels. And the Pixar staff was utterly focused on getting the first feature launched, then the second, then the third. ...

Twenty years on, Pixar is a cog in the Disney profits machine, it has a long list of winning movies, and its talented artistic crew is focused on more than just the next feature. The studio makes sequels because it can, and because there is pressure from the mother ship to keep older titles alive.

Toy Story 4 is without doubt an example of Disney's desire for sequels, but so what? Toy Story 3 was a hit with both critics and audiences, so please tell us how this is an example of creative wells running dry.

There's only one solid indicator of empty wells: a boring, predictable movie. Few Pixar movies (we'll exclude the Cars franchise) meet this criterion.

Lastly, no studio stays on top forever. Crew members change, and so do public tastes. Disney Feature Animation was a spent force a decade ago; now it can do no wrong. DreamWorks had sixteen money-makers in a row, then hit a rough patch.

The only studio that has remained a commercial powerhouse through everybody else's ups and downs is Pixar. The Emeryville facility has yet to turn out a box office dud, but still gets accused of losing its mojo by over-the-hill monthlies. So it might be wiser to accuse Pixar of creative wimpishness at the point where its box office takes a nose dive.

Just a thought.


3 comments:

Celshader said...

Pixar, at the beginning, was a small, struggling studio totally dependent on Steve Jobs' deep pockets and its production deal with Disney. It didn't have a catalogue of features (it hadn't been created yet) so no way could it make sequels. And the Pixar staff was utterly focused on getting the first feature launched, then the second, then the third. ...

The terms of Pixar's original five-picture contract with Disney may have also played a role. A sequel did not count as a "picture" in the contract. Steve Jobs insisted that Toy Story 2 should count as one of the five pictures, but Michael Eisner stuck to the letter of the contract.

During that time, it was in Pixar's best business interest to not make another sequel until that contract ended. Now that Pixar has slightly better terms with Disney, they can make as many sequels as they wish.

F. Kousac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Hulett said...

My question is: "How is an animated sequel that gets rave reviews AND makes a potful of money an indicator of a descent into mediocrity?"

Would somebody explain that to me, please?

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